Photo Credit: Participants on the field trip. Photo by Forest Stewards Guild

We had an unseasonably wet summer in northern New Mexico, which led to a fairly quiet fire season. As a result, the Forest Service was able to manage several naturally ignited fires for resource benefit. For those of us working to promote fire adapted communities, it has been a good opportunity to take stock of our mitigation and planning efforts.

I recently participated in an informative field trip in Taos County. During a subsequent trip (which I will discuss in a future blog post) I visited with the core team of t

A photo from the Carson National Forest taken during the 2003 Encebado Fire on Taos Pueblo. Photo Credit: Ignacio Peralta, USFS.

A photo from the Carson National Forest taken during the 2003 Encebado Fire on Taos Pueblo. Photo Credit: Ignacio Peralta, USFS.

he Community Wildfire Protection Plan update to discuss CWPPs.

The field trip was convened by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and brought together many members of the Taos County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) core team, including representatives from Taos Pueblo, the Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, the Camino Real Ranger District of the Carson National Forest, Ron Gardiner–who is leading the CWPP update project, and Maya Hermann, a legislative assistant to Senator Martin Heinrich.

We met in Taos Canyon, which is a narrow canyon containing a series of high-fire-risk communities, and drove up to the boundary between the Carson National Forest and the Taos Pueblo wilderness. Renee, a former smokejumper, now leads the Environment Department at Taos Pueblo. When we reached an overlook, he began describing his vision of forest and watershed management on Taos Pueblo lands. We learned that his vision dovetails with that of his neighbors, who also want to reduce wildfire risk, restore streams and improve watershed health.

Renee highlighted the sacred nature of the mountains and streams, as well as the challenges of employing forest thinning and prescribed fire on his land. In 1970, 48,000 acres were returned to Taos Pueblo from the federal government (learn more here) with the stipulation that they should be managed as wilderness. Renee described this as a hurdle that adds to planning complexity and can delay needed forest thinning and prescribed fire. We walked back to our vehicles thinking about these challenges and the complexities of managing this beautiful landscape as we walked through an unnaturally dense forest that had signs of frequent low-intensity fire hidden by dog-hair thickets of ponderosa pine, white fir and Douglas fir.

We left Taos Pueblo and crossed back onto Forest Service land, where New Mexico Wildlife Federation executive director Garrett VeneKlasen prepared a tailgate lunch of elk green-chile burritos. The conversation centered on the work that began as a sub-committee of the CWPP core team. I learned that this sub-committee spawned the Taos Valley Watershed Coalition and then developed a restoration strategy. The strategy identifies management priorities and funding strategies. Since Taos County began their CWPP planning effort in 2006, I’ve been impressed with the passion of the core team, the consistency of their meetings and the success of their fund-raising efforts.

As some of us headed back for second elk burritos, Ron Gardiner described his efforts on the Taos County CWPP update. He was interested to learn more about the FAC Learning Network, and how others are crafting CWPPs currently. We agreed to meet again to talk in-depth about CWPPs.

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